Warning: Spoilers ahead for The Walking Dead comics.
After nearly 200 issues, the comic series of The Walking Dead has killed off Rick Grimes, but will this prove to be an exciting fresh start or a horrible mistake? Every The Walking Dead fan knows that no character is ever safe and as Robert Kirkman brought the Commonwealth arc to a close, the death flags came out for lead protagonist, Rick Grimes. After Rick had a hand in a change of leadership at the Commonwealth, the spoiled brat son of the settlement's original leader was out for revenge, coldly shooting Rick in his own bed with a silencer-equipped pistol and leaving Carl to find his Dad's body.
Kirkman insists that the timing and manner of Rick's demise have been in place for a very long time and also affirms that the decision was completely unrelated to Andrew Lincoln's Rick being written out of the TV adaptation last year. The franchise's creator writes in the comics' most recent issue that he realizes a Rick-less The Walking Dead presents a huge challenge, but hopes his work so far has earned enough trust for fans to give the series a chance as it heads into a new era.
Rick's death may have been years in the making, but killing off a lead protagonist is still a hugely risky move that can threaten the stability of an entire series. After all, Rick is the character The Walking Dead readers follow, invest their time in and often the reason they stay with the series after first picking it up.
Predictably, online fan reaction to Rick's shooting has been divided but a notable amount of readers are supporting Kirkman's bold decision. An argument can certainly be made that Rick's time in The Walking Dead had come to a natural conclusion. Rick has taken his group of survivors to the brink of civilization but a clear formula to his story arcs has emerged, where new villainous communities continuously threaten the safety of Rick's family and friends, until the good guys ultimately prevail and take another step towards reclaiming their old lives. With the Commonwealth arc, Rick breaks that trend by talking his own people and the Commonwealth's loyalists down from conflict. Therefore the character has perhaps fulfilled his purpose in the series: Rick Grimes has built the "new world," it's time for other characters and fresh challenges to come to the fore.
Many The Walking Dead readers, and most likely Kirkman himself, would argue that the series is an ensemble piece about a group of main characters. This is partly why AMC's The Walking Dead not only survived Andrew Lincoln's exit, but improved in terms of critical reaction. The TV series had a strong cast of characters such as Michonne, Daryl, Carol and Ezekiel, all of whom shared the burden of filling the show's Rick-shaped vacuum.
The same approach won't necessarily work in the comics. While a core bunch of key characters remain in place, not all of these figures have been featured consistently in the comics' main plot. Maggie, for example, has been a peripheral figure in the Commonwealth arc, and Carl only became significant at the very end. This is a natural effect of writing a comic book as opposed to a TV show; it's far easier to simply stop drawing a character than it is to tell an actor they aren't needed for half a season. However, it also makes the task of replacing Rick, who has been almost always central to the story, far harder.
The other big issue surrounding Rick's death is that although fans have mixed opinions regarding the idea of killing the character, there was far more criticism over the method. Considering everything the former cop has been through, being shot by a moron while in bed hardly feels like a fitting way to bow out. To make matters worse, Carl's reaction to his father's killer was frustratingly restrained. While Carl's dedication to peacekeeping is admirable, no one reads The Walking Dead for its diplomacy.
Of course, time will tell whether or not The Walking Dead can continue successfully without Rick, but as Kirkman himself says, the series has at least earned enough trust to be given a chance.
The Walking Dead season 10 is expected to premiere in October 2019 on AMC.